Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


PRO14 Semi Final: Edinburgh 19-22 Ulster

Ulster v Edinburgh
Graphic © Scottish Rugby Blog

This PRO14 semi-final match at an empty BT Murrayfield started at a fair lick, and as a result there was an expectation of a much more entertaining spectacle than the all Irish encounter of the previous night – even if the audience was restricted to TV viewers.

Duhan Van Der Merwe had the ball 3 times within the first 10 mins – as many as he had had it in the whole of last week’s game – and it was clear that the intention from the home side was to play a more expansive game.

With 12 minutes on the clock Van Der Merwe had yet another big carry which led to Edinburgh pressing the Ulster line. Ulster infringed at the breakdown and with the advantage Van Der Walt tried a cross-field kick which Darcy Graham might have taken had he grown a couple of feet in the last few months.

From the penalty that followed though Edinburgh bravely kicked to the corner, won the lineout and Stuart McInally drove over to score the first try of the game. Van Der Walt was unable to add the two points.

Ulster were next to threaten. Ben Toolis was punished for a no arms tackle and Ulster kicked to the corner. A series of drives ensued and then another penalty was conceded. Chris Dean was the culprit as he failed to move away from the ruck quickly enough. Another line out drive and short distance carries led to a knock on.

After the usual resets, Edinburgh were able to clear their lines. Nic Groom launched the ball into the sky and Jacob Stockdale, being hunted down by Duhan van Der Merwe, knocked on giving Edinburgh a scrum on their own 10 metre line.

Van Der Merwe took the ball up from the scrum but was penalised for not releasing after the tackle and Ulster were again in Edinburgh’s back yard. Van Der Merwe intervened again – it seemed like he was everywhere – and turned the ball over at the ruck that followed the Ulster lineout.

On the right wing Darcy Graham had been a little quieter but showed his worth on one occasion when he tackled a rampaging Jacob Stockdale and also turned the ball over in double quick time.

As the half drew to a close it was Edinburgh in the ascendancy. Blair Kinghorn kicked a penalty for a lineout deep in the Ulster half and with their lineout operating flawlessly at this stage they made a late attack, with Chris Dean almost breaking through and Mark Bennett screaming for the pass which would surely have doubled Edinburgh’s lead. It wasn’t to be, and the half fizzled out without further score.

Half-time: Edinburgh 5-0 Ulster

Ulster emerged for the second half shorn of star scrum-half John Cooney, with Alby Mathewson coming on to replace him. Stockdale was now on the wing (with a brief to marshal Duhan), as Michael Lowry was also on to replace Louis Ludik.

Edinburgh doubled their lead on the 46th minute. Ulster were penalised at a ruck for coming in from the side. The home side kicked to the corner and after a number of phases that took the pack under the posts they broke right and the ball found its way to Darcy Graham who scored in the corner. This time Van Der Walt made no mistake and added the extras to make it Edinburgh 12, Ulster 0.

The perceived wisdom is that you haven’t scored till you deal with the restart but Edinburgh in the shape of Simon Berghan (just on the field) gave away a penalty.

Ulster though coughed up the ball near to the Edinburgh line and Grant Gilchrist, celebrating his 150th appearance threw a risky pass under his own posts. Fortunately Mark Bennett held it and took it all the way up to half-way. If his pass inside to Groom hadn’t been intercepted by Burns, who was tracking back, then another score may have resulted.

A sustained period of Ulster possession ensued and in the 53rd minute they made a good attack down the right wing and Rob Lyttle was able to run in a try under the posts. Billy Burns converted to make it a one score game again.

From the restart Edinburgh retained possession and after around 10 phases the ball was moved left. Hamish Watson, lurking in the centre channel, made the hard yards. It looked like he may have got to the try line himself before being held short but he laid it off inside to Chris Dean who was able to stretch over and score. Van Der Walt kicked the conversion to make the scoreline feel comfortable, in theory.

Ulster weren’t to be shaken off.

Only 4 minutes later the visitors got another score this time through Rob Herring after a maul close to the Edinburgh line. This one couldn’t be converted but they were within range of forcing extra time.

Ulster had their tails up and battered at the Edinburgh line and only stout defence and some knock-ons from the Irish side kept Edinburgh ahead. As the last five minutes approached, Ulster scored another try through their maul. Ian Madigan, on for Billy Burns, kicked the tough conversion to tie the game at 19-19.

The spectre of extra time now loomed but with Ulster in the ascendancy throughout the second half, they now looked the most likely to win it either in regulation or added on time.

And that was exactly what happened. With Ulster passing trhough the hands from the base of a ruck just inside Edinburgh’s half, replacement hooker Mike Willemse stretched out a hand and knocked the ball down.

Referee Frank Murphy correctly called it as a penalty. Up stepped Ian Madigan who stroked it through the upright to give Ulster the lead, and the win, as the clock was already in the red.

FT: Edinburgh 19-22 Ulster

This was a great game and a classic “game of two halves”. In the first Edinburgh bossed the possession and the territory but were out thought and outfought in the second with Ulster taking 73% territory. It felt like much, much more. In the end the team who prided themselves on staying in the fight and second half robustness were beaten at their own game.

SRBlog Man of the Match: If the game had finished at half time then Duhan Van Der Merwe would have been the only choice, but he was anonymous in the second as Ulster just didn’t give up the ball. He wasn’t the only one though, and no one in the Edinburgh side did enough to eclipse what he had done in the first half so I’m still giving it to Duhan.

Referee: Frank Murphy (IRFU)
Assistant Referees: Mike Adamson, Sam Grove-White (both SRU)
TMO: Neil Paterson (SRU)

Edinburgh: B Kinghorn, D Graham, M Bennett, C Dean, D van der Merwe; J van der Walt, N Groom; R Sutherland, S McInally (captain), W Nel, B Toolis, G Gilchrist, M Bradbury, H Watson, V Mata.
Substitutes: M Willemse, P Schoeman, S Berghan, A Davidson, C Shiel, N Chamberlain, G Taylor.

Ulster: Jacob Stockdale, Louis Ludik, James Hume, Stuart MClosket, Rob Lyttle, Billy Burns, John Cooney, Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor, Sam Carter, Matthew Rea, Jordi Murphy, Marcell Coetzee
Substitutes: John Andrew, Jack McGrath, Marty Moore, Kieran Treadwell, Sean Reidy, Alby Mathewson, Ian Madigan, Michael Lowry

65 Responses

  1. Edinburgh just need to learn to close out these big games and they will win trophies. Aim is to execute this in the challenge cup now.

    I thought Watson, Duhan and Graham were all excellent for the most part.

    Marcell Cotzee was my MoM.

    I think Haining should overtake Mata based on what I have seen this season.

    Thought the ref overall had a good game, your always going to miss the odd one.

    1. Last I heard, breaking off the back of the split maul to join the other half is not legal.

      Herring can swim I suppose…

  2. Agree that Mata has been less effective. I think that those missed tries in the first half were the difference. Refereeing aside, Edinburgh were the better team overall, but Ulster took their chances. It seems a lot of criticism of Kinghorn’s defence, which is reasonable I guess – he made 4 and missed 2 – until you see that Stockdale made 1 and missed 5. Cockerill will rightly be livid.

    1. Thought Mata and Bradbury we’re particularly ineffective. Still struggle to see what Bradbury brings for such a physical presence. Always wants to go to ground rather head up up and run.

      1. I wonder if it’s a Scottish coaching thing. Like a tactic that we employ. Both those guys have shown that they can run over the opposition, after all.

      2. Well they didn’t run all over the opposition tonight. Could it just be that the other side had a ‘tactic’ and worked out how to put them down before they got a head of steam. No one seems to be giving Ulster any credit. Edinburgh were excellent tonight, it was going to take an exemplary performance to beat them.

      3. To be fair, Coetzee made 63cm a carry. Mata made 1m per carry. Maybe Coetzee benefits from being at a bigger team.

      1. Rubbish. Both Edinburgh wingers were better and who hid? Seriously, give examples. Edinburgh made more metres from 70% as many runs. They made more tackles and had a higher completion rate. They won more set pieces. Who hid? Was it Lyttle’s opposite man who made 3 times as many tackles, got turnovers, won ball in the air and put in massive hits?

      2. Is ‘rubbish’ and appropriate term ! With stats like that it is amazing Edinburgh didn’t win but they did. They did not choke either, they were in it till the clock went red.

        I do not agree that the man of the match was not appropriate, his timing was right when his side needed it and they won.

        I do not agree that a qualified and experienced referee, with 3 Scottish officials supporting him made all the wrong decisions.

        I think it was a great game but ultimately , the more resilient side won, I wish they hadn’t, but they did. Ulster had a strong bench and Edinburgh faded.

      3. Yeah, I’d definitely say that Edinburgh choked.

        They don’t seem to be able to handle knock out rugby yet which is a real shame. Probably reflects the mental frailties that seems to effect our national team too often and O’Halloran memorably remarked upon.

      4. A game lasts 80 minutes, not just a purple patch. Only stat that counts is the points at full time. Wingers weren’t better, with DVM coaching tactics found out second half.

      5. Yes, it is. Because he was anonymous in the first half and made plenty of errors. You have failed to back up your justification, too.

        I never said they made all the wrong decisions. But the decisions they made told a story. And Frank Murphy’s experience is poor. He is a bad referee. He’s a bad referee when Glasgow win in spite of him and he was bad last night. There shouldn’t have been any SRU ARs, not least because our refs aren’t any better. And the referee is the sole arbiter of fact on the pitch.

        You think a bench including the likes of Schoeman and Ritchie was weaker? Wow. Ulster were emboldened by ‘indulgent’ refereeing and rightly capitalised. In any other industry this conflict of interest would result in fines and legal action. Shows how amateur we are.

        Edinburgh choked by leaving at least three tries out there, but Ulster won because they were indulged by a referee who is employed by the union that owns Ulster Rugby. If I were an Ulster fan, and I really like what they’re trying to do under DM, I’d consider this a hollow victory.

      6. Teamcam : rubbish , you are the only person who said Edinburgh had a weaker bench ! Wow , the devil is in the detail.

        The difference between Mata and Cootzee was not about distance carried. Cootzee first turned over in the 7th minute and continued to do so all night. It was obvious that his intervention at key moments (not Frank Murphy’s) was significant. Mata was anonymous in that department.

      7. I said that Edinburgh we’re stronger across the 23. Stop lying. And turnovers are generally the openside’s preserve.

      8. As an occasional observer I am disappointed to see the continual attack on referees. I would like some examples of Murphy’s bias and I can watch the game on catchup !

  3. Just found out John Cooney almost declared international status for Scotland instead of Ireland, his father is from Glasgow, article on bbc. That is definitely one that got away.

      1. Which would I rather have , Ali Price or John Cooney ? There is not much in it, but Cooney still cannot usurp Murray.

        Besides you have blogged commented before about what a great threat Cooney is. You need to have a good memory to be a good blogger commenter.

        [Edited for accuracy – R ;)]

      2. I’m not a blogger. Cooney is a great player, but is it better than Price or Horne? I’d say no. Do you know what point you’re trying to make?

    1. Just putting this out there. Not to do with the game but “the one that got away” will be Finlay Christie if SRU dont hurry up and snatch him.

      1. I reckon Alldrit is the one who got away. Always seems to put in 100% compared to Bradbury’s 75%.

      2. Alldritt qualifies for Scotland through his fathers family (although Wikipedia has his grandparents as Irish but it appears to be wrong from interviews). In an article for the Offiside Line Alldritt even says they grew up feeing half Scottish – his brother actually plays for Stew Mel FPs I think (from same TOL article).

        SRU did approach him but by that time he was well established at La Rochelle and opted for France

      3. Teamcam: What are you saying! we have Watson and Richie. Watson was immense last night and should be catching Gatland’s eye by now. What is to mourn about the loss of Aldritt! We cannot have all these great Scots waiting for Toony to pull their names out of the Tombola.They might as well be getting a game somewhere.

        Toony rates Wilson and made sure Gary Graham did not ‘get away’. You have to give him credit for that.

      4. Does Aldritt not usually play at 8 for France? We still have no one who has convincingly nailed down the 8 shirt and it’s been a position of weakness for years.

      5. No I disagree , Aldritt is listed as a Flanker OK ? Picamoles is still number 8. What is the problem !

      6. Disagree if you like, but Aldritt started every game of the 2020 6N at 8 and Picamoles is no longer in the France squad.

        France started Ollivon and Cros at 7 and 6 respectively.

  4. Sare one…….

    1st half was fine Edinburgh played well & should’ve been 20 points ahead at HT, Dean not passing and Bennett not kicking, looking back Edinburgh tried to play to much rugby in their own half & still have few options in the backs (Matt Scott should’ve been retained), I groaned when Dean kicked the ball away from the result of playing too much rugby. Ulster are well coached and simply stopped kicking it long, depriving VDM & Graham of any opportunity to attack. (much like international teams do V Scotland), lack of discipline cost us dear. I thought Gilchrist was held down but he was there and did move quickly enough.
    Backrow selection was interesting –
    Crosbie is simply better than Bradbury.
    Haining guarantees front foot ball, Mata is a superb player but likes space
    VDM, Watson, Graham all played well.

  5. Teamcam has been blaming the opposition and referee for his teams losing for years..stats tell
    only part of the story..which team had the greater desire to win

    1. Desire should not be a factor – this was Edinburgh’s chance to make a big statement about where they belonged. And they failed again.

      Ulster are a good team but no more than that and Edinburgh are now only the third team to have lost a home SF in the pro-14.

      Realistically it shows Edinburgh still have an awful long way to go before they win any silverware.

  6. Little point making mention of stats of Kinghorn re tackles made and missed, there isn’t stats for the work he avoids, his work in the first try was abysmal. He is a show pony.

    1. He is not the first Full Back who has that ability and he wont be the last. I quite like him, he is clean cut and has height.

      1. He has height yet would get gubbed in the air for a high ball by Graham… they should switch roles in the Edinburgh team.

  7. Personally I thought the ref had a decent game – didn’t get everything right but certainly no noticeable bias.
    Ultimately Edinburgh faded away in the second half – looked to me like the Ulster coaching team did really good analysis from the first half and made changes to neutralise Edinburgh.
    Very disappointing result at the end, but it was a cracking game.
    Watson was probably overall MOTM for me (apart from getting done for one of Ulsters tries). Plenty of positives and the first half was really strong from Edinburgh but they didn’t adapt in the second and lost momentum.

  8. I thought the referee was fair, not perfect but never going to be. My thoughts, Magnus Bradbury could be a great player but insists on putting his head down and charging into one opposing player. Run at arms lad!
    Edinburgh need a 10 that will attack the line. They tried to move the ball but Jaco stands so deep, it is Easy to defend.
    Not a disaster, minor tweaks not revolution needed.

    1. I agree, I think Frank Murphy is an excellent ref, I don’t think last night was his best game but I can’t understand why the Pro 14 continue to allow it a talking point by having Irish refs used for games involving Irish provinces against teams from other nations. I thought they were poor at reffing the offside line, but that’s not why Edinburgh lost.

    2. pro14 head of reffing phones Cockerill to ask f it was ok to appoint Murphy.

      Murphy just isn’t a good ref, but he didnt cause the result. And there can be no complaint from Edinburgh they ok’d Murphy

  9. I felt that we lost for two reasons. First too many mistakes and penalties given away at crucial points. That is where Leinster stand out. They don’t make mistakes. Second, our bench were clearly inferior to Ulster’s. The rot really started when McInally went off. Could be partly a funding problem. On the whole the main Scotland team boys did OK. Jamie Ritchie lacking game time.

    1. preferring Willense to Cherry, or even the young lad Cockerill released after taking him from Glasgow isn’t a funding problem is the normal sense.

      Spending less in this case would get you more

  10. Edinburgh’s senior players went AWOL second half. Not for the first time. Coetzee dominated carrying, tackles and turnovers. Kept Ulster in the game almost single handed, then Edinburgh’s wheels came off, focus went, some looked unfit, some off the pace from the off.

    Reminded me of Leicester in the season or so before they sacked Cockerill

    1. Well, he didn’t dominate carrying or tackles, though he got some nifty turnovers. He’s a quality player, but I think you’re underestimating the impact of the change in tactics and players/positions in keeping Ulster in the fight. Incidentally, for all the talk of Coetzee’s turnover prowess, he managed to get two. Same as Hamish Watson, as it happens.

      1. Ah , so we are all ‘underestimating the impact of the change in tactics and players/ positions’. That explains the second half. I observe you have moved on from the belief that the difference in the sides was Murphy’s refereeing. Or was that the first half !

      2. I do not believe anyone was critical of Hamish Watson, he is exceptional at turnover ball, I cannot recall a negative comment about him, he is consistently outstanding. The stats (not sure where you get them !) may not have Coetzee ‘dominated the carrying or tackles’. ‘All the talk of his turnover prowess’ (I take it you disagree) is appropriate in my opinion for three good reasons which I am sure will not make one iota of a difference to your opinion however :

        1) The timing was right, Ulster made it count.
        2) If it was limited , it was effective enough to be noticeable and
        3) ‘as it happens’ – his team won.

  11. Sorry for my cousins from along the M8. Good game of open rugby unlike the unexciting dirge served up on Friday. My view is that Embra we’re unlucky and should have taken their chances when on offer to be out of sight. Ulster however worked them out, changed tactics and applied pressure. As regards the ref, as others have commented, it can’t be right to have an Irishman. I thought he had an ok game, however you can’t criticise him for Grant Gilchrist repeatedly allowing himself to be trapped on the wrong side and Mike Willemse reaching for a ball he is never going to get. As much as it hurts Embra will get better at the knockout stuff as the Warriors have done over the years.

  12. Edinburgh were on top form, always looked the better side , it took a big team to beat them and it took them to 81 minutes to do it. Whatever happened to proud scots.

  13. I never expect much from Gilchrist and to give him his due , he frequently exceeds my limited expectations. Saturday was no different , he was playing his part well and then it happened. He gave away 2 penalties within minutes of each other in the last quarter. I suggest that was two occasions where Edinburgh handed the psychological advantage to Ulster. Murphy would have , rightly, carded him for a third. I was surprised that he was expected to last the whole game , was the Toolis substitution planned or enforced?

    1. I think people continue to under estimate just what a good player Toolis is. The Edinburgh line out was rock solid while Gilco and Toolis were both on the pitch. Toolis went of and Gilco was just shattered that last 20. He fell on the wrong side but was obviously pinned in on both occasions you frequently see refs refuse to award penalties when players are so obviously pinned.

    2. Toolis had shoulder surgery after lockdown, so his fitness to last 80mins on his first outing was dubious to put it mildly, so it was planned. whether he should have started at all another matter, but he was ok while on. Some of the Edin pack looked well off the pace, either physically or mentally or both

  14. Well.. that’s Sutherland, Ritchie, Watson, Graham etc all out of the running for a spot on the B&I lions if I know Gatland well enough

    1. Agree with that. He’ll cite it as another example of a Scottish team lacking the killer instinct to put sides to the sword. Such a shame as the physicality, fitness, skills and coaching are present now. Just that mental strength lacking.

    2. don’t wish to be down on any of those players (personally I think they are top drawer) but does anyone seriously think they were ever in with a chance?

      They all have loads of competition for their positions, Watson and Richie would be competing for the same position in A Lions squad.

      That’s before we get to Gatland’s ever changing rationale.

      At least this time he can’t say the Edinburgh players couldn’t deliver away from home. Smiley wink thing.

    3. I’d be stunned if Gatland knew these games were even being played, let alone who was appearing in them. If he was watching he’d have been inking in VDM as a possible I’d imagine.

      Scottish players have 11 games to impress (2020 v Wales, Georgia in warm up test, 8-nations games versus Fiji, Italy, France and other pool opponent, then 2021 6Ns).

      It’s not complicated – beat some big teams and we’ll get players on the plane. Lose all our games except Georgia, Italy and Fiji and we’ll get Hogg and one other.

      1. I think we had quite a few players in the running for selection until we got man-shamed at Twickenham. Maybe it wasn’t fair but then our players faced an acid test and dissolved.

        No worries, we had the chance to shove it down Gatland’s throat the following year in Cardiff…

      2. The following year in Cardiff we lost 34-7 as I recall, it was a humiliation. You are right though there is still a lot of rugby to go before the lions.

  15. – I think resting Gilchrist (and maybe even Toolis) was a mistake as he clearly lacked match fitness despite a good first 50 minutes.

    – Haining not in the 23 was criminal.

    – We won’t win any silverware with VDW at 10…He is not good enough and has a very limited attacking game. He cannot attack the line and he is one of the most static passers of the ball I’ve seen in a 10.

    – Dean not passing and Bennett not kicking were huge missed opportunities. I was shocked at Bennett’s decision too pass as he is usually a smart player – it was never on. If we take just 1 of 2 of those chances, we win the game.

    – I love Watson and he had a good game but that defensive blunder was so poor…literally ran on the inside untouched…

    Very hard pill to swallow…game should have been put to bed after 60.

    Not sure we will get many better opportunities to lose to Leinster in a final.

    1. Bazz, In addition to Haining, Crosbie’s absence from the 23 was equally poor judgement IMO.
      I’ve always thought VDW was a better 12 than a 10, he is a very good player but not a top level 10.
      I know I’ve mentioned it before but letting Matt Scott leave was a big mistake, Dean is a good club player but no more. Scott ability to make hard yards & keep a defense honest would’ve been priceless
      Your Dean not passing & Bennett not kicking statement is 100% correct, I was really hoping Bennett would get back to his pre-injury level………….
      When Ulster realised that VDM was our main threat & stopped giving him any space/ball we struggled badly re go forward ball.
      When Toolis & Gilchrist faded the game was up in the line-out

  16. 1st choice Edinburgh side

    1. Sutherland
    2. Mcinally
    3. Nel
    4. Gilchrist
    5. Toolis
    6. Ritchie
    7. Watson
    8. Haining
    9. Pyrgos
    10. Van Der Walt
    11. Van Der Merve
    12. Taylor
    13. Bennett
    14. Graham
    15. Kinghorn

    16. Cherry
    17. Schoeman
    18. Berghan
    19. Carmichael
    20. Mata
    21. Groom
    22. Chamberlain
    23. Sau

  17. He has height yet would get gubbed in the air for a high ball by Graham… they should switch roles in the Edinburgh team.

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